VERONA, NJ - Pole vaulting isn't necessarily a sport that people know that much about, but for Liliana Benanchietti it is her passion.  She has dedicated herself to improving and perfecting her jumps and has provided motivation and guidance to her teammates along the way.  This past weekend she placed second at the State Sectional Track and Field Championships to earn herself a trip to the group championships on Feb. 15.  Benanchietti is the TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove Hillbilly Athlete of the Week.

"Lily has been a very dedicated and determined athlete for both our winter and spring track teams during the past four years. She has worked extremely hard to become one of our county’s most recognized pole vaulters," said Head Coach Gene Leporati.  "This is truly our most technical event and requires perseverance, strength, and great kinetic awareness to be successful. Lily’s assistance, encouragement and enthusiasm has been extremely valuable to the progress of our other pole vaulters."

Benanchietti began pole vaulting as a freshman when her coach encouraged her to give it a try.

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"I joined track as a freshman and Coach Lep was looking for people to pole vault and he was specifically looking for girls who had done gymnastics," she said.  "I had done competitive gymnastics and he thought that would give me an edge in pole vaulting so I tried it and I ended up loving it."

As a senior, Benanchietti is one of the leaders of the small team of VHS pole vaulters.  She said their group of six is tight and offers support and motivation to each other.

"The boys and girls pole vaulters are kind of our own little team.  We really motivate and complement each other," she noted.  "We each have different strengths and we help each other."  

Benanchietti said the biggest challenge for the small team is not having a dedicated pole vaulting coach -- which leaves the small team working to coach themselves.

"The throwers have their own coach and the runners have their own coach, but for pole vault the coach is usually the oldest pole vaulter on the team so we have to learn from each other and there isn't always a lot of guidance so it’s hard to progress," she said.

Yet the team has progressed with all three female pole vaulter's advancing to the group championships.  In addition, Benanchietti has placed in every championship this season -- but her favorite was a meet at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

"It was weird because normally they raise the bar 6 inches after each clear, but at this meet they raised it a foot each clear, so it went 7 ft., 8 ft. and then 9 ft. and nobody could clear 9 ft.,"  she explained.  "So they decided to drop it to 8’6 and all of the girls that cleared 8 ft. had a chance to jump.  Basically it was the first person to clear 8’6 wins the meet and I cleared it on my first attempt."

As she finishes her VHS winter track career, Benanchietti is definitely excited for the group championships and about her sport in general.

"I love that it’s a unique sport.  Nobody every really hears about pole vaulting so they don't really know what it is," she said.  "I like showing people videos of what I do and educating them about the sport."

TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove  is an online newspaper serving the Townships of Verona and Cedar Grove. TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove is accredited by the New Jersey Press Association, and is a locally owned news organization serving the community.

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